When the editors of Gadling announced the first of our ‘theme days’ would be dive bars and restaurants, I was admittedly a little concerned. I usually prefer a dirty martini to a cold beer, and I’m the one who eats the carrots and celery sticks from the chicken wings platter before the bleu cheese dressing is gone. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate a good dive bar, and I’ve spent plenty a Sunday afternoon watching football with a cold Sam Adams in some of Boston’s best dives. But an expert? Not even close. So I turned to the only expert I know on the subject of dive bars and restaurants and asked for his input: The Next Food Network Star Guy Fieri.
Fieri is the host of four food shows – “Guy off the Hook,” “Guy’s Big Bite,” “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” In October 2008, Guy released his first book Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives: An All-American Road Trip…with Recipes!, based on his TV show, which offers tales and tips from some of Guy’s favorite dives.
I caught up with Guy in Los Angeles and asked him to break down a few dive bar essentials for me.
What’s the best thing on the menu at any dive bar? It’s usually got to be something fried. Fried food is quick and just about anything tastes good once it’s been through a pool of hot oil. The key is to be creative and put your own spin on it like Bar-B-Q King in Charlotte, NC. Their fried chicken is money and it’s drenched in their top-secret homemade bbq sauce.
How can you tell an ‘authentic’ dive bar/restaurant from a wanna-be dive bar/restaurant? What are the top things every good dive bar should have? An authentic dive has wear-marks on the doors, floors and chairs. Décor isn’t front and center; it’s all about the food and the atmosphere. The best dive bars play good music and have savory characters, nostalgic nonsense, a dart board, and poorly working neons.
What’s the most important piece of dive bar etiquette any newbie should know? Don’t ask for it, just find it. That means ketchup, napkins, etc. Most dives aren’t fully staffed – you might even walk into a place where your waiter is also the chef and the cashier. He’s got enough on his plate, so if you need something, take a look around and grab it yourself.
Let’s talk food: What’s the staple dive bar/restaurant menu item? And what’s the proper way to eat it? Chicken wings with bleu cheese dressing. NO battered wings!! It’s a sin not to eat ALL the meat off the chicken. You’ve got to strip it to the bone. Also ask for your own bleu cheese to dip the wings in. That way the folks you’re dining with don’t accuse you of double-dipping.
Where’s the farthest you’ve traveled to eat at a dive bar/restaurant? Thanks to Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, I’ve been all over from the north to the south to the east to the west. I’ve met some stand-out people and enjoyed all different kinds of food. I love getting to know the people behind the establishments and having them teach me how to make one of their signature dishes. I walk away learning something new in the kitchen every time.